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Thursday, December 20, 2012

Worthless, Foolish Talk

(Though I wrote this right after the election in early November, it just got posted today on CalledtoYouthMinistry.com. It seemed appropriate to share in light of heading into holidays with family and friends, and sadly, because of the heated rhetoric emerging out of the horror of Sandy Hook Elementary. Thanks for reading.)


Lessons from the Election
I think all of us would agree that we are glad that this election has passed. I saw in the news that it is estimated that $6 billion was spent! That explains why I felt so exhausted by the barrage of negative TV commercials and flyers in my mailbox.

However, this is the first major election that I recall where the dialogue was just as ugly on social media. Sure, we had Facebook and Twitter in 2008, but they were not operating at the intense levels they are now. I am more bothered by the posts I saw from my Facebook “friends” than by anything I saw from the candidates!

Other than unsubscribing the worst offenders from your Facebook feed, what is a Christian to do? I take counsel from Paul’s wise words to Timothy in what most scholars consider his last epistle from jail, written nearly two thousands years ago.

In 2Timothy 2, especially starting in verse 14, here are some of Paul’s words that we can take to heart and apply in very real ways in 2012:

Stop fighting. Period. There is not much to add to Paul’s words in verse 14: “Remind everyone about these things, and command them in God’s presence to stop fighting over words. Such arguments are useless, and they can ruin those who hear them.” May we never put more emphasis on where we disagree than on what we have in common.

Never attack other people, regardless of how strongly you feel about a given topic. I cannot deny that some of the issues at stake in this election will have massive consequences on the world stage. Nevertheless, we are called as believers to be respectful and kind. Hear Paul’s counsel again from verses 16-17: “Avoid worthless, foolish talk that only leads to more godless behavior. This kind of talk spreads like cancer, as in the case of Hymenaeus and Philetus.”

Pray for God to change hearts. Rather than debate and argue and post yet another toxic article on your Facebook, listen to these words: “A servant of the Lord must not quarrel but must be kind to everyone, be able to teach, and be patient with difficult people. Gently instruct those who oppose the truth. Perhaps God will change those people’s hearts, and they will learn the truth.” (verses 24-25).

Don’t get me wrong – I really cared about this election. In fact, I voted early through my absentee ballot. But at the end of the day, I want to live out these words that John Wesley frequently quoted from Augustine: “In essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity.”

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Horror, Hype and Handel

Like many people, I woke up thinking about the massacre in Newtown. I sat glued to the TV yesterday, watching the horrors unfold in waves, wanting to tear away from it all and pretend it wasn't happening, but at the same time needing to watch.

I am disappointed (actually, infuriated) by some of the insensitive things said by Christian leaders about this. Can we please just sit with these poor people in their grief and SHUT UP!?!?! The friends of Job are often made fun of (justifiably so) for their bad advice to Job in his abject suffering, but for the first seven days, they got it right:

When they saw Job from a distance, they scarcely recognized him. Wailing loudly, they tore their robes and threw dust into the air over their heads to show their grief. Then they sat on the ground with him for seven days and nights. No one said a word to Job, for they saw that his suffering was too great for words. (Job 2:12-13). 

To do anything else -- say, use this as an opportunity to talk about prayer in the schools or how we are all murderers smacks of insensitive and opportunistic hype to me.

I'm grateful for my own pastor's words this morning... as always, they are gentle, knowing and subdued. Take 2 minutes to read them.


Newtown and Bethlehem

I woke early with the sorrow of Newtown.  The grief is overwhelming.  The loss is beyond any words or consolation.

I know that you have already joined the thousands who filled the churches of Newtown to pray.  We naturally turn to God in such moments not only in seeking comfort but also with our outrage that such innocent lives would be allowed to be taken.  What kind of world do we live in?  When will all this killing end?  How long will our Lord wait until making all things new - and giving us "right minds" where we truly do have a "Newtown" with a new Jerusalem and true peace on earth?  This juxtaposition of evil with the message of Christmas is not lost on any of us.

I've always been bothered by the Christmas story told in Matthew where Herod's angry insanity caused him to order the death of the baby boys in Bethlehem so he could end the life of the young rival king the Wisemen came to worship.  The grief of those parents undoubtedly mirrored the ones of today.  The juxtaposition of evil with God's gift of His own Son is not lost on any of us as well.

Evil in all its various forms is most obvious when it is the innocent who suffer and often die.  That is why the birth and death of the innocent child of Bethlehem speaks deeper than the words any of us can say.  That is why comfort is found only in God.  God is with us.  That is why the churches of Newtown are filled.

My thoughts take me to Handel's music and the words of Isaiah 40. 

Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, saith your God.

Speak ye comfortably to Jerusalem, and cry unto her, that her warfare is accomplished, that her iniquity is pardoned:  for she hath received of the Lord's hand double for all her sins.

The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God.  Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low;  and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough places plain;

And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together;  for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it.


When Handel wrote the music to communicate God's word his servants described him:  "He was praying...he was weeping...he was staring into eternity." 

That is what we are all doing.

Denny

Per Denny's advice, I am listening to Handel's Messiah this morning as I write this. May we continue to pray for those in Newtown, and pray that as believers we can offer persistent love, a listening ear and compassion to others in their loss and fear. There will be time in the future to take the conversation to bigger and more personal levels. Be patient. Here's an article I wrote this fall on comforting others in grief.

Meanwhile, I yearn for the "new town" of eternity to come quickly:

He who is the faithful witness to all these things says, “Yes, I am coming soon!”

Amen! Come, Lord Jesus! (Revelation 22:20)

Friday, December 7, 2012

Advent 2012: The Now and Not Yet

I am late to the party when it comes to celebrating and enjoying Advent. Not having grown up with religious practice around Christmastime, I did not know about lighting candles and the Advent wreath and all that till much later...

Not only have I learned to extend Christmas joy into an entire month by practicing Advent, but even better, I have grown in learning how to anticipate the Second Advent by recalling the First Advent.

A friend in Bible study got all of us turned on to Advent readings provided by Creighton University, a Catholic school in Omaha. The readings for this first week have been a lovely way to start this year's Advent celebrations and reflections.

Here is a portion of today's scripture reading, from Isaiah 29. Take a moment to envision this prophecy for the future:

17 Soon—and it will not be very long
    the forests of Lebanon will become a fertile field,
    and the fertile field will yield bountiful crops.
18 In that day the deaf will hear words read from a book,
    and the blind will see through the gloom and darkness.
19 The humble will be filled with fresh joy from the Lord.
    The poor will rejoice in the Holy One of Israel.
20 The scoffer will be gone,
    the arrogant will disappear,
    and those who plot evil will be killed.
21 Those who convict the innocent
    by their false testimony will disappear.
A similar fate awaits those who use trickery to pervert justice
    and who tell lies to destroy the innocent.

22 That is why the Lord, who redeemed Abraham, says to the people of Israel,

“My people will no longer be ashamed
    or turn pale with fear.
23 For when they see their many children
    and all the blessings I have given them,
they will recognize the holiness of the Holy One of Israel.
    They will stand in awe of the God of Jacob.
24 Then the wayward will gain understanding,
    and complainers will accept instruction.

The Advent writer for today's passage says this about these words:

Isaiah is a prophet, one who sees reality as God inspires him to and who then speaks of that reality as God impels him to.  Here Isaiah speaks of the changes that God will operate, and he describes those changes in three seamless stages.

At first Isaiah speaks of very clear changes in Lebanon and then gradually eases into smaller and less visible alterations: the deaf shall hear, etc.  In the third stage he proclaims the end of evil: the tyrant, the arrogant, those alert to do evil, etc. shall disappear.  Isaiah makes it clear that the Lord is actually working these positive transformations, right now; he announces and proclaims it in the very face of all the contrary evidence...

The last verses of this passage point to the result of God's work: the house of Jacob shall have all sorts of reasons to be healthy and fearless and to know and serve the Lord.  This is something yet to come for his hearers, and it is still today only a hope (and I mean that in the theological sense, not as just a vague wish).

As Christians of today we find ourselves in much the same position.  In terms of Isaiah's words, our world is becoming visibly less clean and fresh, and it needs renewal or recreation (cf. Wordsworth, "The world is too much with us").  We have all sorts of people wounded and broken in body and spirit, and not just "naturally" so, and can we say that evil men and women do not have a major hand in running our world?  Jesus has come and changed everything by His living, dying, and rising, but we still wait in hope to see the fullness of His salvation.

So do Isaiah's words bring us to hope, to trusting the Lord even in our darkness and frustration?  Are we willing to live the life of the beatitudes as we await the revelation of the Lord in our world? 

If not, can we experience the coming feast of the Birth of Christ in any authentic way? 

I am greatly challenged by his last questions, especially the last one I bolded in bright blue. I want to say a vigorous YES! to that... may we each live "the life of the beatitudes" in this waiting time between the First and Second Advents of our Savior.

Yesterday I finished up my class at Westmont and left them with these words...

"Heaven is not a far-away place to which we hope to go; it is the presence of God in which we ought to live." William R. Inge (1860-1954)

This was a class on how to integrate theology, doctrine and practice for ministry. Before we get too lost in all the implications of that, I wanted them to remember that it is really quite simple: ministry is giving people a taste of heaven. In the NOW, we get a tiny glimpse of the NOT YET. That alone is more compelling than any words we could possibly come up with.

As you practice Advent, I pray that we will all taste of heaven, and be reminded of the many beautiful promises that the Lord is bringing to bear -- slowly, steadily, surely. Hallelujah!

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Four Days of Rain + Many Vegetables = Delicious Soup!

I posted this soup on the second day of January in 2011 and it merits recycling because my house smells SO GOOD right now as I await the finishing touches on a batch of this. I have a crisper full of celery, kale, mushrooms, leeks and brussels sprouts, plus a couple of garlic cloves on the counter, so here goes.

Asian Mushroom Soup

When it is raining really hard, it's chilly, and you're in denial over the end of vacation, here's a good solution... a veryflavorful soup, full of vegetables, chicken and rice noodles.

I had some chicken broth I made after having an amazing roast chicken on New Year's Eve. But you could just use canned broth or bouillon cubes if you had to. The flavor comes from the garlic, ginger, soy sauce and mirin. If you don't currently have that in your pantry, you should... it's a great ingredient for salad dressings or just to add some tang to stir fry.

My roommate is fighting a cold, so I'm hoping the combo of ginger and garlic can do some chicken soup magic -- with a little Asian flair.

Happy New Year people. Don't be in denial -- it's gonna be a great year!

Ingredients

  • 4 cups fat-free, reduced-sodium chicken broth
  • 3 tablespoons reduced-sodium soy sauce (or tamari if you're gluten-free like me)
  • 2 teaspoons grated fresh ginger
  • 3 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 3 cups assorted mushrooms, sliced -- white buttons, oyster, shitake, portobello and crimini; if using shitake, discard stems 
  • 3 cups white cabbage, cut in wedges (I didn't have cabbage, but had a stalk of brussels sprouts. Yummy!)
  • 2 cups fresh udon noodles or cooked linguine (I used a package of pho noodles -- PERFECT)
  • 1 cup thinly sliced green onions, with some of the green tops
  • 2 cups shredded raw spinach or whole baby spinach leaves
  • Freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 1 tablespoon mirin (sweetened rice wine) (optional)

Directions

In a large pot, combine broth, soy sauce, ginger, garlic, mushrooms, cabbage, carrots and chicken. Cover. Bring to a boil; simmer until mushrooms are soft, about 5 minutes. Stir in noodles, green onions and spinach; simmer until greens are wilted, about 2 minutes. Season.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Another Birthday

Today would have been beloved Claire's 38th birthday. I had breakfast with two friends this morning and we remembered her. It is hard to believe she has been gone since August 2010.

Markers like this are bittersweet at best; to stop and take time to recall the special qualities of someone who is now gone is very dear... but it is also jarring to realize how life has plowed forward all too easily without them. In losing Claire I have experienced a very strange tension: I was (and sometimes still am) angry that we could not put all of life on "pause" and refuse to continue without her. At the same time, it was often a great relief that I had the new things of life to distract me from that unnameable ache.

Grief, after the initial shock and awe of the loss, settles into a strange stereo existence. On one speaker is the (usually) louder ups and downs, joys and challenges of everyday life. Yet humming steadily in the background is a quiet tune that increases in volume at the strangest times -- a visual reminder, a song, a conversation or a particular person can turn my attention from the present concerns onto memories and sadness.

It is a curious thing... Sometimes I have lovely, wonderful, fulfilling experiences or opportunities, and am so grateful for them. They are almost too good to be true, and I cannot believe I have the privilege of doing them. But what do I still wish for? To get to share them with Claire, to see the laughter and delight on her face as I tell the tale. I look forward to those times, but also miss them.

The photo here is of our last conversation... I was heading out for vacation, to take my niece and nephew camping, and stopped by to say goodbye. Those goodbyes were especially poignant because there had been several close calls in the few years preceding them, and at first I did not have the courage to say all I wanted to say... Yet after one especially horrible moment where we almost lost her, I decided to never miss another chance. Over and over I would say all the things that were felt and known, and learned a profound lesson in the process. Thank you Claire.

This morning as I rode my bike back from breakfast and memories of Claire, my iTunes mix brought up this song by Sara Groves called The Long Defeat:


I have joined the long defeat
that falling set in motion
and all my strength and energy
are raindrops in the ocean

so conditioned for the win
to share in victor's stories
but in the place of ambition's din
I have heard of other glories

and I pray for an idea
and a way i cannot see
it's too heavy to carry
and impossible to leave

I can't just fight when I think I'll win
that's the end of all belief
and nothing has provoked it more
than a possible defeat

we walk a while we sit and rest
we lay it on the altar
I won't pretend to know what's next
but what I have I've offered

and I pray for a vision
and a way I cannot see
it's too heavy to carry
and impossible to leave

and I pray for inspiration
and a way I cannot see
it's too heavy to carry
and impossible to leave
it's too heavy to carry
and I will never leave

There are many references I could give here as to what "the long defeat" means, but if you are a fan of Lord of the Rings, you know what it is talking about. At one point I heard an interview by Ms. Groves, where she talked about being inspired to write the song out of learning about the work of Dr. Paul Farmer and Partners in Health in Haiti: the whole concept of "losing" a cause yet knowing that we cannot give in to the loss is profound... and really the meaning of life for us as followers of Christ. The weight of sin and brokenness in the world is "too heavy to carry" and yet how we cannot possibly leave either. We stay for the fight, despite the seeming odds against us, because it is simply the right thing to do. As she says, "I can't just fight when I think I'll win."

That was what I learned from watching Claire fight that damn brain tumor for ten years. It was a losing battle, but she never gave in. Her redheaded stubbornness, faith and beauty refused to cave, and it took her without permission at the end. With the strength of the crucified and risen Christ, who is acquainted with such a fight as that, we persevere as well. In the strain of it all, I inch toward understanding what obedience means. We miss you Claire, we don't forget you, and we are grateful for the years we did get to have. See you again.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

FSE #6: Lovely Adventures

I am realizing I haven't posted an "FSE" (Former Student Encounter) since April... not that I haven't had quite a few, but I've let the joy of sharing them slip my mind. Gettin' older, y'know...

ANYWAY, I just returned at midnight last night from a whirlwind of a weekend. I drove down on Saturday, Nov. 17, to our Free Methodist Church in Santa Ana, for a Hispanic youth rally called Explosión Juvenil 2012. Completely, totally fantastic -- from the colored lights to the thumping worship to the torta sandwiches for sale out front, made by beautiful abuelitas... a powerful meeting full of praise and worship by a ton of young people. I had many highlights, but perhaps my favorite was seeing four of our pastors up front on the worship stage, dancing in worship with the worship band, leading the students in humility and joy. How I love seeing not just youth, but the key adults in their lives, being together in that way.

From there I drove to Azusa and spent two nights. I got a nice day of rest and Sabbath on Sunday, with a little side trip to Flappy Jacks on Route 66. A fellow gluten-free friend hooked me up and I'm telling you, to get to have a big, goopy waffle after at least three years of deprivation was pretty. darn. amazing. Their helpings are enough to choke a horse, so my food extended into lunch as well. Not complaining.

That evening I went to The Gathering, another Free Methodist service that is being led in partnership with Azusa Pacific University. I have been working with the campus ministries pastor who is leading this service. I felt so fortunate to see another unique way that our movement is seeking to reach its neighborhood. As we say in describing worship as one of our Five Core Freedoms (summed up in using the term "Free" in our denominational name), "The FMC gives freedom to each local congregation to follow the Spirit’s leading on how they worship. Some Free Methodist Churches worship in liturgical style with daily office, while others worship in charismatic style with praise choruses. A few have taken this freedom to create a blended style of worship that brings together a community of people of all ages and creates a family of God that accepts both sacramental liturgy and the Christian year as well the most recent of praises choruses and prayer services. Worship includes not only the music of praise and the study of Scripture but also the sharing of life in community."

As if I hadn't gotten to do enough cool stuff already, I woke up Monday morning and headed over to APU to speak in their morning chapel. I have spoken at Westmont's chapel a couple of times, but APU is about four times larger than Westmont! Their chapel meetings are major productions with all sorts of media, including live feed to another location.

This little youth pastor was rather daunted... I am used to just using my little powerpoint clicker, a Bible and telling some funny stories. In multiple emails back and forth with the tech teams, I tried to not let myself get rattled as I tried to navigate the use of slides and music and quotes and such. But I should have known better... I showed up right on time on Monday to run through tech and who is there but the beautiful and amazing Hannah Elliott Williams! (Pictured above at her wedding, surrounded by us as her former high school small group). I know that Hannah had been working with production for chapel, but just sort of assumed she'd moved on to something else since I hadn't heard from her in preparation.

I am not sure I have ever been so grateful to be wrong. Not only is Hannah still involved, but she's running all the tech for all the chapels on campus... and APU run seven of them each week to several thousand students. Incredible and super duper cool. Hannah was in full bossy lady form yesterday, and completely set me up to succeed, allowing me to use the music and slides I had submitted.

It was a wonderful, wonderful time. The chapel time opened with an APU Gospel Choir that blew the roof off the building. I knew with that sort of set up that I would be fine. The students were incredibly receptive and warm, and even laughed at my jokes. Someday they will post the message on iTunesU, and maybe I'll post the link here. I made a nice fool of myself, but also challenged them to grow up to maturity in Christ by going to / joining / loving the church, the bride of Christ. What a privilege. The rest of the day was full of meetings with students, sweet conversations with students who stopped me to talk about chapel, a meeting with students who want to pursue vocational ministry in their future, and my seminary class in the evening. PHEW. I am rather tired, but smiling.

How blessed and grateful I was for this entire weekend, for this crazy stuff that all adds up to a job that I love, and to see a former student (now a dear friend) who is simply THRIVING. I have already had Thanksgiving!

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Confidence

My first hero growing up was Julie Andrews. Keep in mind that the most formative movies of my early childhood were Mary Poppins (1964) and Sound of Music (1965). I really do not think they make movies like those anymore...

Any Julie-phile will immediately know which song to start humming from this photo... here are some of the lyrics:


I have confidence in sunshine
I have confidence in rain
I have confidence that spring will come again
Besides which you see I have confidence in me

Strength doesn't lie in numbers
Strength doesn't lie in wealth
Strength lies in nights of peaceful slumbers
When you wake up -- Wake Up!

It tells me all I trust I lead my heart to
All I trust becomes my own
I have confidence in confidence alone
(Oh help!)

I have confidence in confidence alone
Besides which you see I have confidence in me!

Oh Julie, how I love thee... but these words are not true. That lovely confidence of childhood and middle school years falls apart in high school and the insecurity that remains carries on in some form for the rest of our lives, at least for most of us.

I was reminded of this in so many ways this past week:

  • I met with a youth group last weekend who came up to Santa Barbara for a retreat, and the seniors were open in their profound fears of the future as they anguished over college decisions and social pressures;
  • I met with a class at Westmont who traveled last semester through Turkey and the Middle East. We talked over the complicated idea of what it means to communicate the gospel cross culturally, understanding the language and culture of those to whom we seek to serve. One student said, "I don't like this. It's too hard." We all agreed it's far easier to keep things black and white, rather than in nuances and shades of gray, considering each context on its own;
  • I met with my Westmont internships class, and we talked this week over how to persevere in ministry over the long-term. We agreed that we so badly want others to love us in order to make us feel needed. I talked over the dangers of that, and taught from 1 John 4 -- how loving others with agape love is utterly different from the human love we know naturally;
  • I went to a high school event last night and felt the insecurities and drama of adolescence wash over me as I saw them all talking and texting and flirting and trying to fit in...

But I am not without hope. The older I get, the more I see how impossible it is to live life under my own power. Rather, I am motivated all the more to teach and proclaim the gospel because it is good news: If we lean in to Christ, we gain something new: a boldness and courage that is not human. This morning I am reminded of that gift in Hebrews 10:

Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus... (vs. 19)

The word "since" implies a response, and the writer of Hebrews does not disappoint:

Let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings (vs. 22)

Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. (vs. 23)

And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching. (vs. 24-25)

Then we can go dancing down the road like Julie does, drawing near and holding unswervingly and spurring one another one, if we live out of the confidence that only Christ can give.

But as I kept reading, I was sobered by this:

Remember those earlier days after you had received the light, when you endured in a great conflict full of suffering. Sometimes you were publicly exposed to insult and persecution; at other times you stood side by side with those who were so treated. You suffered along with those in prison and joyfully accepted the confiscation of your property, because you knew that you yourselves had better and lasting possessions. So do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded.

You need to persevere so that when you have done the will of God, you will receive what he has promised. 

Many of my conversations this week were with young people. I love their idealism, energy and earnest questions. They help to keep me from becoming cynical. But I cannot deny that my own experiences of suffering and disappointment have tempted me to "throw away my confidence" at times. Hebrews 10, with its use of "confidence" in two very different ways in one section, reminds me that regardless of whether I have the energy to dance down the road or only have the strength to sit in sadness and grief, that I can still have confidence. How? As one commentator puts it, a confidence from God helps us to "trust in God, certainty of salvation, the conquest of the consciousness of sin, sanction and power to pray and expectation of the future."

So I do not have confidence in confidence alone, and certainly not in myself. But I rejoice that I can still be bold, and take risks, through Him... In fact, it is crucial that I do so, in order to feel the power of his presence in my life, and to last until the end. Press on with such confidence.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Fall Updates 2012: Day Seven

Last night a group of us who meet every Tuesday night for Bible study and fellowship did what we normally do on the last Tuesday of every month: we do laundry with friends who live on the streets. It was started at a laundromat nearby by a friend of mine who called it Laundry Love. (I know there are other Laundry Loves in Santa Barbara, but we are only connected in spirit).

We arrive around 5pm with a Costco-sized tub of laundry detergent and an old pasta jar full of quarters.  As we plug quarters into the washers and dryers, we hang out and visit with our friends. Once the stuff is in the dryers, we serve up about 6 large Domino's pizzas, which we purchase through a generous deal with the owner next door.

I need to be honest and say that when we started doing this about eighteen months ago that I had to really rev myself up every time to do it. It's a very meaningful thing to do, but that doesn't make it easy. Making conversation with people who are living with some major challenges -- be they financial, medical, mental, chemical or social -- is not always easy.

But after all these months, something clicked for me last night. It was... lovely. Conversation came naturally, names were known and said, genuine affection was shared, and we laughed as we lamented the troubles of life together. One of our key couples was not there last night because they had taken a trip to New York City which was very much derailed by Hurricane Sandy. The regulars heard about this and had a bunch of questions for us. One of them said as we were leaving, "Please make sure they know that we are all praying for them here." I nodded, and thought to myself, if anyone knows the challenges that weather and hardship can bring, it is these people. Their prayers will be heartfelt, for sure.

I prayed about our time together with our friends this morning, and I read these two things:

Like every human organization the Church is constantly in danger of corruption.  As soon as power and wealth come to the Church, manipulation, exploitation, misuse of influence, and outright corruption are not far away.

How do we prevent corruption in the Church? The answer is clear:  by focusing on the poor.  The poor make the Church faithful to its vocation.  When the Church is no longer a church for the poor, it loses its spiritual identity.  It gets caught up in disagreements, jealousy, power games, and pettiness.  Paul says,  "God has composed the body so that greater dignity is given to the parts which were without it, and so that there may not be disagreements inside the body but each part may be equally concerned for all the others" (1 Corinthians 12:24-25).  This is the true vision.  The poor are given to the Church so that the Church as the body of Christ can be and remain a place of mutual concern, love, and peace. (Henri Nouwen)

Psalm 103

1 Let all that I am praise the Lord;
    with my whole heart, I will praise his holy name.
2 Let all that I am praise the Lord;
    may I never forget the good things he does for me.
3 He forgives all my sins
    and heals all my diseases.
4 He redeems me from death
    and crowns me with love and tender mercies.
5 He fills my life with good things.
    My youth is renewed like the eagle’s!

I have learned so much not just by serving but by knowing the poor. They are not "bums" or "hobos"... they are people with names who are made in the image of God. He knows the number of hairs on their heads.

I heard this verse taught on years ago by a man I greatly admire, Bob Mitchell, the former president of Young Life. I take it seriously, and will end with it:

Those who shut their ears to the cries of the poor
    will be ignored in their own time of need. (Proverbs 21:13)



Saturday, October 27, 2012

Fall Updates 2012: Day Six

I will start this post by saying, "It's Still Easy Being Green." Huh?

As I share in these last few posts about what I am up to, I want to confirm that I am still as green as ever when it comes to transportation. Two years ago, almost to the day, I posted here about selling my car and opting to rely instead on my scooter, my bike, my feet, public transportation, the kindness of friends and an occasional car rental!

Whenever this comes up in conversation, people are nearly always either curious or baffled. And then their first question is usually some variation on "And how's that working for you?" I am happy to say that I am doing just fine. More than fine, really.

Not only has it been two years since I sold my faithful 1997 Subaru Legacy Wagon, but it's also been five and a half years since I bought my Buddy scooter, which is just about to hit 14,000 miles on the odometer. It's also been over nine years (May 2003) since I started this "green journey" intentionally. Along the way, I've definitely discovered a few things...

It's not that difficult. Granted, I'm single and don't have to transport others on a regular basis. But regardless of who I talk to about this, it is easy for them to admit that they could easily do one trip a day without their car. Here's more info and motivation on bicycle commuting. Really - think about it... consolidate some errands into one trip; bring a lunch to work instead of driving somewhere; ride your bike to Farmer's Market... there are plentiful options!

It helps me stay in shape. By walking and/or cycling every day, I would venture to say I'm the healthiest I've ever been. And I've finally been able to figure out how to lose a little weight along the way. Quite possibly a miracle for me, a person with the metabolism of a fire hydrant.

It makes me more aware of the poor in our midst. It's so #firstworldproblems to talk about being green, in some ways. After all, the hipsters love to ride chic bikes or scooters, right? And let's not forget that it is quite the luxury to get to choose whether or not to drive a car. But I will say that not having a car has caused me to be much more aware of the elements. For example, I diligently check the weather forecast almost every day in order to figure out what I will face as I go places. And whenever it rains more than sprinkles, I take the bus. One time on the bus I overheard two people sitting next to me spend the entire bus ride (half an hour) talking through their options for the day due to the weather. It only took a few minutes to figure out that they both lived on the streets by what they talked about: which bus stops had shelters, where to buy fresh socks for the cheapest price, where to find warm meals, etc. Ever since then, I think about our friends on the streets whenever the weather veers from our 70 degrees in Santa Barbara.

I am a more thoughtful consumer. This could be an entire blog topic by itself, but suffice it to say that when I have to first consider whether or not I can carry whatever I purchase in the front basket of my scooter, or in the grocery bag carrier on my bike, that I am greatly slowed down when it comes to shopping.

My main motivation is spiritual. I can't deny that I'm saving a bunch of money by doing this. Filling up my scooter still costs less than $6, no car maintenance saves a bundle, and even on those days I need to rent a car or take the train, it all adds up to be much less expensive in comparison to the weekly costs of owning a car. But make no mistake, Reason #1, first and foremost, for me "being green" is creation care. I firmly believe that we are called as Christians to be good stewards of God's creation. As I mentioned directly above, not having a car forces me to be more careful in my spending. But I want to be quick to say that this is because I am pursuing the spiritual discipline of simplicity, not because I need to pinch pennies. (Though I cheer on anyone who needs to do it for this reason!) I am blessed to say that I am in a comfortable place financially, earning more than in my previous position at a church.

Just a few things to think about....

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Fall Updates 2012: Day Five

Almost exactly a year ago I posted an update of writing projects, and I'm happy to say that the opportunities keep coming. This week in particular has been a banner week for me, and I want to share my good news.

Before I begin: I've said it before and I'll say it again... if I was hoping to make a living as a writer I would be homeless and hungry. But getting to write things on a regular basis to a nice variety of audiences is more than gratifying, so I am not complaining.

Here is what has come out this week -- I wrote them all at various points this summer and fall, but they managed to be released at the same time:

November will mark four years since I went on sabbatical and started this rollercoaster (as many downs as ups) ride of transition. In this process I have learned more than could ever be adequately described here, but suffice it to say I am nearly speechless with gratefulness at God's creative provision and more importantly, his very real presence and love. He is the God of freedom, grace and eternity.

To conclude I share some words from the Book of Jeremiah, chapter 31 (verses 17-20) that I read today:
“O Sovereign Lord! You made the heavens and earth by your strong hand and powerful arm. Nothing is too hard for you! You show unfailing love to thousands, but you also bring the consequences of one generation’s sin upon the next. You are the great and powerful God, the Lord of Heaven’s Armies. You have all wisdom and do great and mighty miracles. You see the conduct of all people, and you give them what they deserve. You performed miraculous signs and wonders in the land of Egypt—things still remembered to this day! And you have continued to do great miracles in Israel and all around the world. You have made your name famous to this day.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Fall Updates 2012: Day Four

Despite my schedule getting that much busier as I juggle a class at APU and teaching at Westmont, I still get to cook nearly every night of the week -- and never you fear, my Big Three are still front & center: gluten-free, organic and seasonal.

Before I continue though, I must share this: on Twitter yesterday I saw this tweet and it made me laugh out loud. It came from someone running a fake Chris Rock account, but nevertheless:
Most people don't realize this, but you can eat organic, all natural, gluten-free food without telling everyone around you.
Fantastic! Mr. Fake Chris Rock, rest assured that I do realize this, and yes, I see that I am being made fun of. Totally fine.

As I was saying, I'm still cooking up a storm... Summer was fantastic, full of berries, chard, endless zucchini, all sorts of tomatoes, red peppers, eggplant, cauliflower... the list goes on and on. As fall vegetables take hold, I shed a tear at the loss of my beloved red peppers and raspberries, knowing I must wait many months for their return. Sigh.

Meanwhile, I will simply stuff my face with other lovely delectables! Tonight I made a favorite of mine from last year, Moroccan-Style Stuffed Acorn Squash. Uh-mazing still. But I've added a few more to the recipe box, and rather than stretch them out, I will list them all here... I have found them through various sources, and will only share the links here, for you to explore yourself. Trust me, they are a wonderland of yummy-ness.

Brown Rice Mushroom Pilaf - I don't know which part of this I like most, but toasted walnuts have become my new last-minute flair for several meals.

Farmer's Market Chowder - I'm a little late to the party on this one... you may have to use canned corn at this point, but it's still definitely worth it.

Risotto-Stuffed Mushrooms - Oh my heart this is fantastic! But I tweaked just a tad and it worked perfectly... rather than make this as an appetizer I stuffed the risotto into meal-sized portobellos. Trust me. Perfection.

Butternut Squash Risotto - Last but not least, my first butternut squash of the season awaits on my kitchen counter. Oh the joys!

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Fall Updates 2012: Day Three

Now you might be rubbing your eyes and saying, "Wha-a-a-at?" I thought she just threw the Westmont logo up there. Now's she sporting the APU logo? What is up with that??"

Indeed. What is up with that? I am able to make the strange claim that I am indeed a Westmont Warrior (thanks to extremely part-time, adjunct faculty status) AND an Azusa Pacific University Cougar! What do I mean by that? Well... I'm currently enrolled as a student at APU Seminary. Crazy talk, I know.

Allow me to explain. I already have a Master's in Theology from Fuller Seminary (Go-o-o-o-o.... oh wait, Fuller doesn't have a mascot). In the last year, through my work with the Free Methodist Church in Southern California, I have been working with administration, faculty and staff at APU on various projects (I'll talk about that in a later post), and have been very impressed with the caliber of folks I have met. Every single person has been creative, intelligent, energetic, entrepreneurial and generous with their time and support.  In talking with some faculty in the School of Theology, I started feeling that familiar itch, that growing desire to be back in school again, despite my tortoise-like pace in getting my MAT. I started poking around for information on what a Doctorate in Ministry (aka "DMin," but if you say that quickly, it doesn't sound good for us Jesus-followers... "I'm getting a DMin.") could look like. It didn't take long before I was hooked.

HOWEVER (isn't there always a "however"?), I also found out that my lowly MAT lacked a few credits to qualify me to start. So despite being a Fuller audit-aholic (I think I audited eight courses after finishing my degree) I was told I needed two more seminary courses to apply.

Since I love going to school, PERIOD, I was not too bummed by this news. Granted, driving down to Azusa once a week is no small accomplishment, but I have a carpool buddy (one of my summer interns who is just starting her seminary education), so it's all good. I'm taking Pastoral Counseling for Adolescents, and I am loving it. Yes, despite all these years in youth ministry, I still have plenty to learn.  It is awesome to be reminded of this. So far, the entire class has been worth it for one book: Becoming a Healthier Pastor by Ron Richardson. Outstanding! I've already referred it to a few "come-alongside" clients, who have echoed my praise. There are several other books, and a couple of them would get "Not a Fan" status from me, but overall the lectures have been A+ and I am already gathering notes for my research paper. If it goes well, maybe I'll even post it here!

So... Go Warriors, Go Cougars... heck, Go Gauchos! I'll be quick to admit it: I'm a lifelong student. And pretty darn happy about it.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Fall Adventures 2012: Day Two

Yesterday I started what I hope will be some consecutive posts about the various projects I have spinning these days. I am beyond grateful at what God is bringing my way! His creativity and generous grace astound me. 

So in honor of "consecutive day" (10/11/12), here is my second, consecutive installment! (After a month of posting nothing, don't be impressed.)

To begin with, I will readily admit that some old friends of mine are allowed to chuckle that I have the Westmont logo posted here because I've always been one to tease pals about their fancy private Christian education, given that I spent my first twenty-two years at public institutions. To be a Christian in Santa Barbara just about inevitably means you will rub shoulders with Westmont in some way, shape, or form though. I cannot deny that a few times over the years I have had a frustration or two with in-jokes or shared memories that Westmont alums around me have shared in such a way that I felt was exclusive.

HOWEVER, I can happily say just as quickly that I have experienced so many great things from Westmont, mostly in the form of lovely people who graduated from there and went on to represent Christ and the Kingdom of God in amazing ways both big and small. I would venture to say that dozens of former youth leaders I have worked with have been influenced by Westmont, and I have known some remarkable faculty and staff.

And now, I am pretty darn surprised (and thankful) that I now actually find myself to be a paid (though extremely part-time) employee of Westmont. Who'd a thunk it? After three different Mayterms of teaching a five-week course on internships, the Religious Studies department asked me this summer to take on their RS190 internships elective. 

However, this decision was not confirmed till a month before school started this fall. Students had enrolled for their fall classes the previous spring, so the only way I could get some students to register for my course would be if they were willing to either pile onto their academic loads further or by dropping a course. Miraculously, on the first day of class (August 30), I had ten students in class! I was thrilled. Though the quickly joy abated just a bit as the "I hate to tell you this but..." emails rolled in. Pretty quickly some students came to realize they could not take the course for one reason or another, and by the second week, enrollment had whittled down to five. 

You don't hear me complaining though -- teaching five students is a dream. They are engaged in discussion, diligent in their reading, teachable in spirit, and relatively timely in completing their assignments :) It's a somewhat unconventional course in that it only meets for two hours once every two weeks, since the bulk of their time is to be spent at their actual internships. Two are serving in youth ministry, one is serving in a tremendous ministry that reaches out international students, and the last two are serving the poor on the Westside in a variety of ways. 

We are spending the semester integrating theology and practice in real settings, and our class discussions are great fun (for me at least). Slowly I am working through eight core competencies that I consider crucial for living out our faith in ministry settings. (Nope -- not gonna share 'em here. You need to take the class to find out what they are!) In these last years I have really discovered how much I want to equip and develop young believers in leadership principles. But I do not want to just inundate them with theories and aphorisms, sprinkled with some nice stories. Instead, I pray I am able to give tangible, compelling tools and a deep conviction to dive in and take some faith-filled risks.

Admittedly, I am also sad that due to the small enrollment I was not able to fill several internships that I sought out from colleagues around town, so I am praying that I will get another chance to teach this course. Nevertheless, I am not dwelling on that; rather, I'm maximizing my time up there as much as possible (aren't you surprised?). I have already had guest-taught in two other courses, and been invited to two more. And I served as the retreat speaker for the First-Year Retreat (AKA, freshmen). This was pure delight for me! I am still hearing from students I met on that retreat, asking to meet for lunch or coffee. Pinch me, I'm dreaming.

I share all this, hopefully not sounding like humblebrag. I am truly stunned at what I am getting to do. These verses from my morning reading today sum it up well:

“But blessed are those who trust in the Lord
    and have made the Lord their hope and confidence.

They are like trees planted along a riverbank,
    with roots that reach deep into the water.
Such trees are not bothered by the heat
    or worried by long months of drought.
Their leaves stay green,
    and they never stop producing fruit. (Jeremiah 17:7-8)

As I noted yesterday, I rejoice in how these opportunities are allowing me to thrive in so many ways... I feel like a sturdy little tree with roots going down deep, and am blessed by God's persistent love and grace.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Fall Adventures 2012 - Day One

I appreciated a friend's email today, asking about my blogging silence. He just wanted to make sure I was ok.

I am more than OK... I AM THRIVING!

I did have to shake my head though when I pulled up my blog just now and saw that I hadn't entered anything in just about a month. Yikes. Where did the time go?

So rather than drone on with a bullet list of what I am up to (I know I know, I have too many bullet lists....) I thought I would just share one update per post, and slowly fill things in as to what I've been up to. So here goes!

For this first entry, I don't know what to call it... The words "consulting" and "coaching" both have a negative ring to them for some, and I get a remark here and there at times when I use either one of these words to describe some of what I do now. What can I say? I love it, and it is really keeping me busy.

For lack of a better term, I come alongside pastors for a period of time and work with them on a variety of things. Since June 2009, I have met with youth pastors and directors from thirteen different churches located in Florida, Illinois, Washington, Nebraska, Arizona and California through a great group of people called Youth Ministry Architects. They gave me a chance when I first entered my big transition from day-to-day youth pastoring, and I am forever grateful to them. 

And starting in March 2009 I have done the same thing with pastors in the Free Methodist Church in Southern California, having worked with twenty-one churches so far. I've fallen in love with the people and the denomination. They labor long and hard and often in anonymity. I have worked with churches from 30 to 800 people. I've been translated into Cantonese, preached to an entirely Latino congregation and even went to three different churches in one day. It's an adventure and I love it.

But let's get specific... What does this coaching / consulting / coming-alongside "thing" look like? Honestly, it varies every time because my first question inevitably is, "What do you need?" Rather than crank people through a gimmicky program, I simply try to bring a big toolbox of resources and experience to every situation. I listen a lot, take a whole lot of notes, brainstorm, and pray.

Quite possibly the most interesting part is how it all works out week by week... after an initial on-site visit where I get to know the pastor and the church a bit, I then meet regularly with them via online video calls. I'm at the point where I am on Skype or Google Hangout just about every day. For example, this was my schedule today:

  • 9-10am: meet with campus pastor who has launched a new service reaching college students and young adults in So Cal.
  • 10-11am: meet with a senior pastor who is leading a church in the High Desert as he ministers to military, Native Americans, retirees, young families, a Christian school and people in recovery.
  • noon-1pm: work with a board member in Rancho Cucamonga to keep shaping our Center for Transformational Leadership. We have at least ten different leadership development projects going on with undegrad and grad students at Azusa Pacific and Westmont. But that's another blog post...
  • 1-2pm: meet for monthly training with a middle school youth director in a Seattle suburb.
  • 2-3pm: meet with an associate pastor in a town near downtown LA.
Isn't that crazy?? Yes, I take breaks to go to the bathroom and eat, but other than that it's a blinger of a day. Yes, I get a little hoarse, and I need a good bike ride after sitting that long, but I consider it an amazing privilege to come alongside these friends. We work on strategic planning, youth ministry, preaching calendars, cross-cultural ministry, staff development, time management, leadership development, new initiatives, spiritual formation, social media, pastoral care, you name it.

I read these verses this morning and they made me think of the churches and people I am working with right now. I praise God for the opportunities before me:

May God our Father and our Lord Jesus bring us to you very soon. And may the Lord make your love for one another and for all people grow and overflow, just as our love for you overflows. May he, as a result, make your hearts strong, blameless, and holy as you stand before God our Father when our Lord Jesus comes again with all his holy people. Amen. (1Thessalonians 3:11-13)

Thanks for reading... much more to share in the days to come. 

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Fear and Faith

I started a new phase of my life yesterday: I am back at seminary, this time at Azusa Pacific University, taking a couple of courses in order to get the extra units needed to start another graduate degree in Fall 2013. It is wonderful to be back in school again. I am a lifelong learner, and simply enjoy the entire process of lecture, reading, discussion, and application. So my Inner (Outer?!) Nerd was blissfully happy.

The course is Pastoral Counseling for Adolescents, and it is remarkable to take this course after so many years already logged in youth ministry. My first seminary courses were taken in 1984, and it is incredible to me what has ensued in those intervening years in terms of learning, experience, mistakes, joys, sorrows. Naturally, I wish I had known then what I know now, but that is what life is all about, right?

I am beginning to reflect on all the things that have changed in youth ministry in this long season of experience. There are simple things like going from using dittos to promote events in 1984 to creating Facebook events! But there are deeper, more profound issues as well, and the one that comes to mind on this anniversary of 9/11 is fear. Many horrifying events occurred well before 9/11 in our history -- two World Wars, AIDS, Vietnam, assassinations, atom bombs, nuclear threat, racism to name a few... but I would say there are two significant game-changers in the way we work emotionally in the United States: Columbine on April 20, 1999 and the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on September 11, 2001.

I am challenged to come up with words adequate to describe the level of fear I now sense with parents in comparison to the ways I related to parents at the beginning of my career. The intriguing part is that in the mid-eighties, it's not as if parents had lived in a world of puppies and rainbows. The decades of drugs and free love in the 60's, along with the cynicism coming out of Vietnam, Watergate and Jonestown in the 70's were not exactly a walk in the park!

But 9/11 and Columbine feel different. The fear and unimagined terror hit so close to home, and feel so tangible and invasive. How can we allay such paralyzing concerns? I look to scripture and there are some fundamentals that keep me anchored:


Isaiah 8
11 The Lord has given me a strong warning not to think like everyone else does. He said,

12 “Don’t call everything a conspiracy, like they do,
    and don’t live in dread of what frightens them.
13 Make the Lord of Heaven’s Armies holy in your life.
    He is the one you should fear.
He is the one who should make you tremble.
14     He will keep you safe.
But to Israel and Judah
    he will be a stone that makes people stumble,
    a rock that makes them fall.
And for the people of Jerusalem
    he will be a trap and a snare.
15 Many will stumble and fall,
    never to rise again.
    They will be snared and captured.”

16 Preserve the teaching of God;
    entrust his instructions to those who follow me.
17 I will wait for the Lord,
    who has turned away from the descendants of Jacob.
    I will put my hope in him.


I have had countless conversations with students over the years of what it means to "fear the Lord." But I think this passage begins to capture it. It is an issue of whom we give power to ~ someone utterly trustworthy, or someone who seeks to destroy us? Fear can be positive, believe it or not, according to whom we fear.

I do not mean to oversimplify or trivialize. Fear can be a dreadful thing, and I know it well. But I am seeking to understand the reality of what it means to walk by faith and not by sight: to not look at immediate circumstances and to what I can see as the final answer. That is to think like everyone else does. Instead, I yearn to wait for the Lord... (and) put my hope in him. My fear becomes one of healthy respect and awe.

May we not be a people of anxious fear, but ones of sober reality who live anchored in the One who keeps us safe in the truest, most reliable and eternal way. If you continue to read in Isaiah (and I encourage you to do so) we find unbelievable promises. Here's the teaser, and with this I conclude; from Isaiah 9:2,


The people who walk in darkness
    will see a great light.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Dream a Little Dream

I have books all over my house. My home office is filled with three separate six-shelf bookcases, crammed with books (and there is a stacker in the closet that holds a bunch more). My living room holds all of my housemate's books, and my bedroom has another shelf of books on the wall, a maple table with books, and my bedside table has about ten books lined up on it. As I mentioned last month, I have now entered the Kindle world, so now my crazed book ownership can go somewhat underground.

The books next to my bed are my "secret stash," books I have acquired over several years, most of which I have not read. I sometimes wonder if I enjoy owning them more than reading them, because I am unconsciously so hesitant to read them.

I should mention that every single one is about the craft of writing.

If I sit and analyze this a bit (as I am doing right now), I think there are several competing reasons for my resistance to reading them. Most strongly, I think of these books as treasures that I do not want to fritter away carelessly. I want to read them when I can truly enjoy them. I am the sort of person who eats the frosting last when eating a piece of cake. I am good at delaying gratification. These books are the ultimate dessert for me.

But I also know that a rather large part of me is slightly afraid of these books as well. To read them feels like I am claiming that I am a writer, and I am not ready to do that. I certainly love to write, but in no way would I call myself a writer. Yes, I have written some articles, but those are three to four pages at most, and emerge out of my own experience and training. I would not say they truly emerge out of some deeper place, though at times I have twiddled with the edges of it.

Lastly, there is a part of me that feels pressure: once I finish these books, there will be no more excuses. No longer would I be able to say that I cannot start writing until I have learned how to do "it." Believe me, I know that is completely lame and one only learns how to write by writing, and rest assured, I do that almost every day. I just haven't figured out if I want to go further than that. I love everything I am working on in my life, but many times I have had the conversation of whether or not I have at least one book in me...

So this week, I had some space to let myself pull out one of my precious treasures. There is only one other book in the stack that I have read: The Faith of a Writer, by Joyce Carol Oates, that I read this past June during my vacation in Grand Teton.

This new one is pictured above: Writers Dreaming: Twenty-Six Writers Talk About Their Dreams and the Creative Process by Naomi Epel. First off, let me say, this is a funny little book. It was published in 1993, and quite possibly the most quaint thing about it is how often each writer refers to working on a word processor. My, how times have changed.

And I am not sure one can really call it a book as much as a collection of interviews. Epel has apparently hosted a weekly radio show called "Book Talk," and she is also a "dream researcher" (right, I don't know what that is either). Writers Dreaming compiles the notes from her interviews of writers and how dreams have influenced their work.

I will tell you that I pay attention to my dreams. I do not see anything magical in them. They are not crystal balls that I consult to figure out my future. As a mentor has told me, Dreams are simply your unconscious trying to figure yourself out. So I pay attention to my dreams to find out what is really bothering me, what I am afraid of, what I am yearning for, etc.

Let's be clear: I do not plan on sharing any of my dreams with you! But I want to tell you that this book, quirky as it is, actually has some great things to say about writing and how it works. I am learning a lot as I read.

Here are some examples:

  • Isabel Allende: Maybe I'm a writer because I'm desperately trying to clean up my mess. Here's another one: Without my demons what will I write about?
  • Maya Angelou: I do believe dreams have a function. I don't see anything that has no function, not anything that has been created. I may not understand its function or be able to to even use it, make it utile, but I believe it has a reason.
  • John Barth (I have never heard of him either): Those rituals of getting ready to write seem to conduce a kind of trance state.
  • Richard Ford: I'm trying to cause people to be interested in the particulars of their lives because I think that that's one thing literature can do for us. It can say to us: pay attention. Pay closer attention. Pay stricter attention to what you say to your son. Pay stricter attention to what you say to someone you love.
  • Sue Grafton: As I write I keep a journal for each novel that I work on... I'm finding now that some of the freest writing I do is in the journal because psychologically that feels like playtime.
  • Spalding Gray: So what I had the students do first was to speak their stories, their autobiographic story, into a tape recorder. Then I'd have them transcribe it and begin to work on making the transcription like writing. My theory was, and it works, that they will find their personal voice in that way because it is their voice. (Is that brilliant or what??)
  • Allan Gurganus: Writing is a kind of free fall that you then go back and edit and shape. I think the best things that I've ever got as a writer come frequently all in a burst.
  • James W. Hall: There's this romantic picture of writers, sometimes, that you either are going to be a great writer or have a great life. And you have to choose one or the other. I don't think that's true for me. I don't believe that that has to be an either-or choice. But you have to consciously decide that. You can't let your ordinary life drift and just sink into the creative world all the time.
That last one is perhaps the greatest advice for me. I will never forget, after having spent several academic quarters plowing through Coleridge (opium addict, bipolar), Hemingway (shot his head off), Fitzgerald (drank himself to death), Sylvia Plath (suicide), et cetera et cetera, coming to the conclusion that I could never be a great writer because I was simply too normal! I have operated under that assumption for nearly thirty years. So Hall's statement is a gift. 

Consider tracking this book down on half.com or finding it in your library. It's worth the time, in my opinion. I'm only about halfway through it, so you may be hearing from me again on this subject...

Saturday, September 1, 2012

A New Salad for September

What a GREAT day... slept in, slow morning, nice bike ride over to my church softball tournament, great barbecue and conversation, more bike riding, a couple of fun house projects, and then of course, some cooking.

I'm not ready to say goodbye to zucchini, summer tomatoes, red bell peppers and delicious berries... but I'm happily welcoming cauliflower and brussels sprouts as fall vegetables slowly make their appearance.

I perused my latest issue of Vegetarian Times and promptly adapted one of the recipes from it tonight. I have no ability to photograph my food, so I'm posting a photo on the left that includes several of tonight's ingredients, hopefully to get your taste buds going.

I practically licked the bowl -- this was very, very good. And rather simple to throw together.



Warm Salad of Buckwheat and Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Cranberries and Walnuts
Serves 2

Use an earthy, nutty grain for this one: I chose to try out buckwheat in my never-ending search for new gluten-free options. I have to say I was totally satisfied and made a new friend in those little buckwheat groats. Other possibilities (not all GF) include couscous, quinoa, brown rice or millet.

Ingredients
1 lb Brussels sprouts, trimmed and quartered lengthwise
4 tb olive oil
2/3 c buckwheat groats
1/3 c toasted chopped walnuts
1/2 c dried cranberries
1 tb dried parsley
1 tb balsamic vinegar
2 tsp pure maple syrup
1 tsp lemon juice

Directions
Preheat oven to 475 F. Toss Brussels sprouts with 1 1/2 tb oil in large bowl, seasoning with salt if desire. Arrange sprouts in single layer on 13x9 inch baking dish. Roast 20 to 24 minutes or til brown and tender, stirring once. Set aside.

Meanwhile, spread out the walnuts on a tray and toast them in the toaster oven. Chop them up.

At same time, heat large saucepan over medium heat. Add buckwheat groats (or other grain) and roast 6-8 minutes. Add 1 3/4 c water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover and simmer 20 minutes or til liquid is absorbed. Transfer to large bowl, cool for 5 minutes, then fold in Brussels sprouts, walnuts, cranberries, and parsley into buckwheat.

Whisk together remaining olive oil, vinegar, syrup, and lemon juice in a bowl. Stir into buckwheat mixture and season with more salt if desired.

Friday, August 24, 2012

How to Prevent Burnout in Ministry

I was recently interviewed by CalledToYouthMinistry.com about thinking about and preparing for how to avoid burnout as the school year begins. The roundtable discussion is found here.

But I'll give my full responses below. I pray for any of you who read this and are in youth ministry and say, Slow and steady stays in the race. Give these disciplines a high priority. Just like the safety drill on the airplane tells you to put on your oxygen mask first before helping others, it's crucial to maintain persistent self-care in order to be truly available to others.

Here goes!


"Don't Burnout This Time Around - How to Prepare for a New Year of Ministry."

Questions:

A new year of ministry is ahead. It's exciting... and intimidating. How do you plan on dealing with burnout this year?

I have practiced 4 things that have sustained me very well. I suffered major burnout in my 3rd year of vocational ministry, nearly crashed out of ministry, and mentors helped learn how to apply these important habits to foster sustainable ministry:

  • consistent (as in weekly) days off; 
  • Sabbath-keeping (learning how the Bible and church history understands it); 
  • scheduled vacations that focused on rest and recreation, not just exhausting adventure.
  • keeping track of how many weekends I am expected or asked to be gone, and saying no to things so that I am not gone more than one weekend per month.

What situations tend to really make you feel burned out? How do you deal with them?

I am burned out mostly by three things:

1. running events, which require the management of loads of details, demand constant flexibility and adaptability, and run the risk of being amazingly successful or dreadfully horrible! I know how to run events rather well, but did not realize that so many plates spinning at once create a great deal of stress for me. If I'm not careful to allow some margin between events, I rapidly lose steam and become short-tempered and quite unpleasant.

2. camp, which is just about the most effective tool we have in youth ministry, but absolutely exhausts me now that I'm older (I'm 51). As I got older, I realized I just needed more boundaries in my work with students. In other words, I needed more personal space to sleep well and recuperate from the never-ending line-up of activities, conversations, lousy food, dirt and dust, and spiritual intensity. After the age of 40 I worked with the camps to allow for me to stay in a room by myself. The leaders, all much younger by and large, were very supportive and understanding. Having a separate room allowed for me to have meetings with leaders and offered a space for them to get some rest as well.

3. crisis and conflict, which are obviously draining. I have found that these events sometimes come in clusters, and cumulatively create a massive need for recovery as I seek to be available to students, families, friends, etc.

To really stay refreshed, our walk with the Lord needs to stay healthy. What advice would you give the youth leader that's dealing with burnout to keep their foundation strong?

I think that my response to the first question mostly addresses this one too. However, I would add that huge chunk of the problem is due to a lack of clarity in regard to job descriptions and time management. Most youth workers lack clear expectations in terms of what there job actually is, and even if they have a realistic job description, this information is not shared with parents, who then place their own uninformed demands on the youth ministry. Furthermore, I have found that the majority of those in vocational ministry (not just youth pastors, but senior pastors are equally guilty) do a terrible job of managing their time well. They are reactive and crisis-orientated, giving in to the "tyranny of the urgent," rather than focusing on healthy, proactive projects and priorities.

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Reading Is Fundamental

I grew up with this motto ringing in my ears at school and on TV (when I wasn't watching Gilligan's Island or Schoolhouse Rock.) As the daughter of a junior high English teacher mom and a dad who majored in political science and philosophy, my home was filled with books and a lot of public television. One summer we moved, and rather than try to make friends in my neighborhood, I hunkered down in my room and read an entire set of children's encyclopedia. (Feel free to roll your eyes.)

Nevertheless, I have never shaken the reading bug. And I have confessed to more than one friend that I believe I enjoy owning books as much as reading them... But my good friends Jason and Nancy convinced me this spring to give in and buy a Kindle. While I am certainly not weaned of books entirely, I have found it to be pretty darn great to know that by tucking one slim little device in my bag that I have a wealth of options at my fingertips..

This week only hardened my resolve to persevere in my reading addiction as I read this article from Harvard Business Review (HBR), whose title had me at hello: For Those Who Want to Lead, Read. There is so much great material in its two brief pages, take a few minutes and read it yourself. But these words break my heart:
The National Endowment for the Arts (PDF) has found that "[r]eading has declined among every group of adult Americans," and for the first time in American history, "less than half of the U.S. adult American population is reading literature."
Combine that with this next section:
This is terrible for leadership, where my experience suggests those trends are even more pronounced. Business people seem to be reading less — particularly material unrelated to business. But deep, broad reading habits are often a defining characteristic of our greatest leaders and can catalyze insight, innovation, empathy, and personal effectiveness.
In this "third half" of my career I am focusing my energies more and more on leadership development. I am beyond grateful for the opportunity through the Free Methodist Church in Southern CA to focus on the investment and growth of young leaders through our summer interns program; even more I am stoked about the advent of the Center for Transformational Leadership, which I am helping to direct. These, along with some teaching and speaking opportunities starting this fall, make me want to pinch myself -- I must be dreaming!

The HBR article states some obvious but significant benefits from regular reading and how it broadens the capacity for leadership: improved intelligence, innovation, insight, increased vocabulary. And I heartily agree that it is also a fantastic stress-reducer, and love hearing that it is an apparent way to fend off Alzheimer's! Who knew?

So I am frequently asking others what they are reading. I don't know about you, but I always have a few books going at once. Here's my latest list:

  • The Norton Anthology of Poetry. I mentioned this one earlier in the summer. Slow and steady wins the race here, I pray. It started with Caedmon's Hymn from the 7th century, and I've progressed to the 16th century. That's something, right? More importantly, I am really enjoying it. Poetry is not something to be rushed.
  • A Future for the Latino Church: Models for Multilingual, Multigenerational Congregations by Daniel Rodriguez. I just finished this this week. I cannot recommend this book enough. It expresses the reality of church ministry in Southern California. Our denomination has eight languages being used in our churches, so I'm looking for any insights I can gain in what it means to minister and develop leaders interculturally.
  • Ministry in the Image of God: The Trinitarian Shape of Christian Service by Stephen Seamands. This was recommended to me by Telford Work, chair of the Religious Studies department at Westmont College. I'm going to use it in a class I'm teaching on internships for the department this fall. It is outstanding, practical, readable and theologically solid.
  • The Defining Decade: Why Your Twenties Matter--And How to Make the Most of Them Now by Meg Jay. This one has been recommended to me by two different people. I'm just getting ready to start it. I do not know if it's a function of my age or calling, but as my vision for leadership development sharpens I find I am moving from adolescents to college students and young adults. I have had the "now what?" conversation with recent college graduates a few hundred times, so I am really looking forward to hearing from someone else on this subject.
  • The Best Short Stories of Fyodor Dostoevsky. To relax, I opt for narrative non-fiction over fiction, but I found this book neglected in my room the other day and decided I need to give it a whirl. How can I go wrong with Dostoevsky??
As I said, I love to hear what others are reading and why... Comments?